Rise of the Machines: A Dark Electronic/Ambient Starter Kit

Heavy metal has been flirting with electronic music for decades now, but the lines between the two worlds seem blurrier today than ever before. Chalk it up to Internet culture—with instant access to all the world’s information comes a vast multitude of subgenres that have enough permutations to satisfy all but the most discerning purists. Add to that the recent popularity of synth-heavy horror flicks like It Follows and numerous electronic artists signing to metal labels (Goblin Rebirth on Relapse, Gost/Dan Terminus/Perturbator on Blood Music) and it becomes pretty obvious: dark electronic/ambient music has pulled off a full-scale crossover! Somewhere in Germany, those pervs in Rammstein are smiling.

So, if you’re new to this whole thing, we’ve compiled a few essential artists to get you started. Turn up your speakers, turn off your lights…and feel free to post more groups in the comments section!

The Godfather

John Carpenter
Evil Renaissance man John Carpenter has been scoring his own films since the Dark Star days (“Halloween Theme,” anyone?), but it wasn’t until the recent release of his Lost Themes LP that he received widespread acclaim from the underground music community. That isn’t to say no one has been paying attention—Carpenter’s eerie synth tunes have inspired countless artists over the years—but there’s something extra awesome about Lost Themes that’s immediately apparent to everyone who hears it. Check out “Abyss” below for an example of his creepy, cinematic style.

Carpenter Worship

After releasing music under the Disasterpeace name for more than a decade, Rich Vreeland finally hit the mainstream in 2014 with the unexpected success of It Follows, a stylish indie horror film for which he provided the score. The Carpenter influence is apparent throughout the soundtrack, but Vreeland also makes use of unsettling percussion and ambient noise to create an atmosphere that’s wholly his own.

This Pennsylvania-based duo is unique in that they perform with a live drummer (Anthony Paterra), which lends an extra sense of urgency and power to their ’80s horror soundtrack vibe. All their albums worship at the altar of Goblin and Carpenter, but Zombi Anthology is particularly noteworthy for its fluid pace and otherworldly ambiance.

Dan Terminus
This is what the Tron soundtrack would have sounded like if Wendy Carlos was obsessed with The Legend of Zelda and LSD instead of her brand-new Moog. Appropriate tunes for having an inter-dimensional space race with malevolent beings made of oscillating light. 

The half human, half synthesizer otherwise known as James Kent is presently enjoying the success of his most recent album, Dangerous Days, which sold out in like four seconds when Blood Music opened pre-orders back in May. Kinda sounds like the score to They Live if it were made in an alternate dimension full of airborne drugs.

Dark Ambient

Eric Zann
This is one of Ghost Box Records co-founder Jim Jupp’s projects, and it exists solely to haunt the shit out of your dreams. I’ve never been hopelessly lost in the middle of a lunar wasteland, but thanks to Eric Zann, I’ll at least be prepared for what it sounds like. Also check out Eta Carinae by Herbst9 if you’re into this.

The sound of the apocalypse crafted by two German dudes who look like they’d be really nice to you if you asked them for directions. Ritual ambience at its most unsettling. Their Facebook page says it all: “The space itself breathes and the ever shifting cartography of the infinite is sonically translated along the ridge of collision.” Bummer, man.

This is a fucking terrifying collaboration between Mories from Gnaw Their Tongues and Eric Eijspaart from Mowlawner. Someone needs to tell me everything is gonna be OK.

Harley Burkhart, drummer of Oakland-based prog/black/noise metal bands Wild Hunt and Dimesland, is the man behind the curtain here. The Bay Area might be nice and temperate most of the time, but that’s not stopping dude from laying down some seriously somber atmospheres under the Plaguecourier name. 

Enter At Your Own Risk

If being tortured by noise is your bag, look no further. You may remember Stalaggh as the “band” that claimed to use the terrifying howls of authentic mental patients to comprise their “music.” Whether or not that’s actually true (LOL), the results are plenty disturbing and make for a unique listen. I suspect I could create a similar product by using a recording studio, a keyboard, a pair of pliers and my unwilling ballsack, but I’m not gonna go to all that trouble.